Steeped in an iridescent history, Valletta is Maltas’ capital city. And has been described as an “open-air museum”.
A walk through the only planned city in Europe will take you back to a time when the Knights of St John ruled.
Though only less than a kilometre in size, Valetta is a stunning hybrid of multiculturalism. This majestic city exudes elegance from its baroque architecture down to its fortified walls.
Said to have been built “by gentlemen for gentlemen”, Valletta (in its entirety) was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1980.
Amongst the backdrop of historical buildings, you will find vibrant shops, cafes, museums and the prettiest of churches in the whole of Europe.
Visit Valletta to see “one of the most concentrated historic sites in the world” with plenty to do much of which is 100% free to do so!
Best Things to Do in Valletta: Stroll the RollerCoaster Streets of Valletta.
It may sound simple, but one of the best things to do in Malta is simply to stroll along the rollercoaster streets of the capital Valletta.
Did you know Valletta is the result of a perfect plan?
So, following the battle of the Siege in 1565, the victorious Knights of Malta purposefully built Valletta as a fortress (just in case) naming it after man of the siege…Knight Jean Parisot de Valette.
Now you see, a walk around a 400 year old city isn’t so simple after all…so go get lost.
Scratch that… you won’t (get lost). You can walk Valletta in under an hour! Just in case, you’re anything like me, I have included a map of Valletta below.
As mentioned Valletta (in its entirety) has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site…so expect to find many historical (and cultural) monuments here.
Map of Valletta
Top Place to Visit: (Don’t Miss) St John’s Co- Cathedral
Without question, one of the prettiest cathedrals in all of Europe, a visit to St John’s Co-Cathedral is not to be missed.
This church was named after the Knights of St John and also the patron saint John the Baptist. St John’s Co-Cathedral showcases Malta’s colourful and (interesting) history.
You will find this baroque gem in the centre of Valletta in St John’s Square (though the entrance is via Republic Street).
The cathedral was built in the 16th century and houses epic works of art from prominent people of the times. Most famously Mattia Preti and Caravaggio.
If you thinking St John’s Co-Cathedral is more reminiscent of an opulent museum… then you’re not wrong and here’s why.
St John’s Co-Cathedral was built following the knights triumphant win in 1565’s battle of the siege.
The battle between the knights and The Ottoman Turks was more than a fight between men with an axe to grind. This bloody and drawn out battle was about protecting Christendom.
Once they emerged victorious… Europe and the church breathed a sign of relief and the Knights of Malta was rewarded with monetary gifts.
Inside you’ll find tombstones made of gold and of marble. Amazing tapestry too and you will also see paintings to depicting the beheading of St John (and other well as noteworthy moments in the Bible).
Whether you are a believer or not; St John’s Cathedral is one of the best places to visit in Valletta, (if not the whole of Malta) and should not be missed.
Entrance Fees & Opening Hours
St John’s Co Cathedral is open 09:30 -14:30 (final entrance at 14:00) Monday to Saturday.
Entrance fees are €15/€7.50 Adults/Students & Pensioners and free for children aged 12 and under.
(Other)Historical Places To Visit in Valletta
A huge historical monument is the former home of the Knights of Malta and it is as grandiose as the name suggests. Now partially used to house the President of Malta, with the rest being used a museum. Here you’ll find impressive murals that have captured 1565’s epic showdown in its entirety. There are also paintings of Valletta’s forefather: Grandmaster Jean De Vallette. And for history buffs the Palace Armoury housing the knights actual weapons used in 1565.
Malta is famous for the Great Siege in 1565 and this is where most of that historical battle would have taken place. Today Grand harbour is one of the largest marinas in the world and is surrounded by fortifications, bastions and defensive towers. You can see Valletta’s neighbouring villages from here such as Kalkara and Paolo. And out just in front you can see Birgu, Bormla and Senglea – collectively known as The Three Cities.
National Museum of Archaeology
Starting with the building, The National Museum of Archaeology is an example of stunning baroque architecture. Going with the grandiose theme, it should come as no surprise that this is yet another former Knights of Malta residence.
Learn the story of Malta’s history as told through the museums prehistoric collection. There are finds here going back 7000 years. Moreover there is a display here of relics from the megalithic temples including the headless fat statues found at Tarxien Temples.
Featuring gilded boxes and the plushest of seats, Manoel Theatre is one of the oldest theatres in Europe. It was commissioned in 1731 by a grandmaster of the Knight of Malta.
Watching a performance from one of Valletta’s oldest historical monuments ranks up there with one of the best things to do in Malta. Also, If you’re around in January it is here where the esteemed Baroque Festival is hosted.
National Museum of Fine Arts
One for art lovers and yet another former residence of the Knights of Malta. The National Museum of Fine Arts is grand building where you will find Valletta’s finest art pieces from 11th Century to 20th Century.
Most notable works of art is the Baptist of Christ painted by Mattias Pretti the prolific painter also responsible for some of the famous paintings in St John Co-Cathedral. Amongst other beautiful pieces is an early impression of Grand Harbour by J.W.W Turner.
The Fort of St Elmo & The National War Museum
Just across from the Grand and Marsamxett Harbours is Fort St Elmo. This is where Malta’s National War Museum is.
Did you know that Malta previously held the record of being the most bombed place on earth?
This historical moment occurred during World War 2 (1942) and is a record that has since been superceded by Laos (following the Vietnam War).
The national war museum pays homage to the great world wars and you can see military memorabilia from WW2.
Casa Rocca Piccola
Ever wondered how an aristocratic Maltese Family lived?
Then head on over to Casa Rocca Piccola, a former palace of a Knight.
Passed down through the generations, the present owners offer guided tours of their opulent home. They will show you their courtyard and also their very own charming chapel. Other than opening up their doors to the public the family also run La Giara a restaurant serving Sicilian food.
Prices range from €0-€10.00. Check full price-list here
The Best Free Things To Do in Valletta
What you can do for free in Valletta will pleasantly surprise you.
These top free things to do in Valletta will have you out and about, discovering Malta’s historical city.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
Now for some peace and beautiful views, something you’ll come to find as the norm here. What you can do for free in Valletta is check out the Upper Barrakka Gardens. From here you can enjoy the panoramic views over the city, The Three Cities and the Grand Harbour.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens also overlooks the saluting battery, which is “fired” daily at noon and 4pm sharp. (More on this below).
Founded in 1661 originally as the the Knights of St Johns private gardens both the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens are beautifully maintained. And the best bit… completely free to visit. Find yourself a spot and have a picnic. Or if you’re an early riser.. catch a sunrise.
Make sure you get a good walk around because the garden also houses various statues of people who have shaped Maltese history.
Lower Barrakka Gardens & The Siege Bell Memorial
You might prefer The Lower Gardens, where it is more serene, has far less people and ranks as one of the top free things to do in Valletta.
What’s more, The Lower gardens give you access to the Siege Bell Memorial, another historical monument to check out.
The Siege Bell Memorial was erected in 1991 to commemorate those who lost their lives during World War II and the Siege of Malta. From here you can see the huge bronze bell in the belfry and beyond that… The Three Cities.
Nowadays you’ll find Valletta WaterFront lined with upmarket restaurants, beautifully restored baroque buildings and palm trees. Back in the 18th Century, the buildings were commissioned for the sole purpose of storing food. Colour was used as a means to indicate what went where. Valletta WaterFront is less popular with tourists. So, if you want to experience Valletta like a local…take a leisurely stroll along the promenade of the Marsamxett Harbour. Or better yet enjoy a meal at the waters edge.
In Maltese, the Door of the City is called “Bieb il-Belt” and this modern entry was finished in 2014. The original one, called Porta San Giorgio, was finished in 1569. Architecture and history is part of the parcel, where Valletta is concerned and is one of the best free things to do in Valletta… Malta!
Perhaps among the top free things to do in Valletta is to see the Saluting Battery. Every day at noon and 4pm on the dot, you can see a short reenactment where a restored gun is fired, making it a must-do experience while you’re here!
Church of Our Lady of Victory
Did you know that in Malta, there are over 350 churches?
There are 28 churches in Valletta alone!
However, what makes Church of Our Lady of Victory special is this church was the very first one! It has the notable distinction of being the first completed building in Valletta under the Order of St. John. It’s absolutely one of the best things to do in Valletta, Malta, and surprisingly completely free to visit!
Every day, you can bask in the outdoors with the Valletta Market. This open-air market not only gets you closer to the culture but also makes a great way to stretch your legs. After all, shopping is an excellent adventure, even if you’re only browsing. Here, you’ll see souvenirs, local produce, clothing, and much more. What you can do for free in Malta is live like a local when you walk through this market!
Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck
My final recommendation for free things to do in Valletta is…
to see this church named after Saint Paul the Apostle. According to the New Testament, Paul wrecked his ship in Malta and was “stranded” here. (or Melite the name in the Bible). He took the opportunity to bring Christianity to those who lived here. This church is full of fascinating relics including a gilded statue of Saint Paul and bones from his wrist.
Where To Eat
Valletta offers an eclectic fusion of international cuisine satisfying all palettes and more importantly…budgets. Believe me when I say, you won’t go hungry.
My favourite places to eat are Cafe Cordina, Kings Club Bar & Restaurant and Oswaldo Restaurant.
The food market offers a wide variety of inexpensive food. Definitely the best choice when you are not alone and have conflicting dinner choices!
Where To Stay
Given that all bus routes lead to Valletta, (more about bus routes just below) it is not essential to stay in Valletta to enjoy the delights of the wondrous city. However should you opt to stay here, there are many different options. From small hotels to authentic stays in old townhouses. Check them out below and enjoy!
On average, hotel prices in Valletta are:
3*** €55.79 per night
4**** €129.88 per night.
5***** € 168.93 per night
Getting To & Around Valletta
Getting to Valletta is extremely easy. Malta’s main bus terminal is based there, so most buses start and end their journeys in Valletta. Probably just as well, because parking/driving around can be difficult.
The city was built strategically with the roads running on a grid system. One advantage is that it makes navigating easy. Though easily walked in under an hour some of the streets are so steep they resemble a rollercoaster, so wear comfortable shoes.
A single ticket (valid two hours) bought on the bus costs €2 from July to September (and €1.50 from October to June).
Other Ticket Types
A block of 12 tickets will cost you €15, but what’s good is you can use this option if travelling with others. Each person must scan the ticket (also valid for 2 hours).
Seven-Day Explorer tickets cost €21 for adults (and €15 for kids). This ticket is valid for seven days of unlimited use, day and night. And this ticket type is valid in both Malta and Gozo.
Explore plus Card costs €39 and is valid for seven days of unlimited use day and night. (in both Malta and Gozo). This ticket type also includes two ferry trips with Valletta Ferry Service, a days travel with Citysightseeing Malta or a boat trip to Comino.
Valletta Ferry Services run between Marsamxett Harbour (Valletta) and Sliema.
(They also run a service from Valletta Harbour to The Three Cities and a single costs €2 per person).